Man and Society in Adam Smith’s Natural Morality: The Impartial Spectator, the Man of System, and the Invisible Hand

IN ADAM SMITH AS THEOLOGIAN, Paul Oslington, ed., London: Routledge, Forthcoming

13 Pages Posted: 28 May 2009 Last revised: 5 Sep 2010

Ross B. Emmett

Michigan State University - James Madison College; PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: April 27, 2010

Abstract

One often hears the argument that Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments provides a basis for the construction of a morality independent of a religion based on revelation. Central to this argument is Smith’s impartial spectator, whose study of human motivation through observation of the diversity of our actions shapes our capacity to both judge the motives of our present actions and inform our future ones. To the extent that one’s moral imagination attends to the impartial spectator, one’s judgment of actions will conform to a moral standard founded on human experience rather religious revelation.

One also hears frequently the argument that Smith’s defense of his system of natural liberty in the Wealth of Nations is simultaneously the defense of an Augustinian-like theodicy in which God provides a natural remedy to human sinfulness. Central to this argument is the invisible hand of market forces, which allocate resources in a way conducive to our common interests, even though their placement is directed by the personal interests of the individual economic actors. To the extent that our social interactions are framed by institutions that allow natural liberty, they it be mutually beneficial to participants in a way that could not be approximated by external direction.

My purpose is to connect these two arguments via another figure from TMS, the man of system.

Keywords: Adam Smith, invisible hand, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Wealth of Nations

JEL Classification: A13, B12

Suggested Citation

Emmett, Ross B., Man and Society in Adam Smith’s Natural Morality: The Impartial Spectator, the Man of System, and the Invisible Hand (April 27, 2010). IN ADAM SMITH AS THEOLOGIAN, Paul Oslington, ed., London: Routledge, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1410813

Ross B. Emmett (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - James Madison College ( email )

South Case Hall
East Lansing, MI 48825-1205
United States
5174326139 (Phone)
5174321804 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.msu.edu/~emmettr/

PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

2048 Analysis Drive
Suite A
Bozeman, MT 59718
United States

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